SpaceX’s CRS-12 Dragon capsule arrives at space station
Some 36 hours after leaving Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX’s CRS-12 Dragon capsule rendezvoused with and was berthed to the International Space Station. The cargo spacecraft is carrying more than 6,400 pounds (2,900 kilograms) of supplies and science experiments.
Once the capsule was within about 33 feet (10 meters) beneath the Destiny laboratory module, Expedition 52 crew members Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency and Jack Fischer of NASA used the robotic Canadarm2 to pluck the spacecraft from space. Capture was confirmed to have occurred at 6:52 a.m. EDT (10:52 GMT) on August 16, 2017, while the complex was flying some 250 miles (400 kilometers) over the Pacific Ocean just north of New Zealand.
“Houston, I really love the honor of being able to catch the cargo vehicle because of what it represents,” Fischer said. “Today has special significance because SpaceX-12 is the last flight on the original cargo resupply contract. [The flight of Dragon] stands as a testament to the burgeoning commercial industry that has become a pillar of support in NASA’s, heck, all of humanity’s quest to explore the universe.”
Fischer said it also represents another example of international cooperation in the storied legacy of the ISS.
“For example, in Dragon’s trunk, it carries the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass experiment that will investigate cosmic ray origins and properties,” Fischer said. “This ambitious experiment is an international collaboration involving partners from the U.S., Korea, Mexico, and France. That is only the tip of the iceberg.”
Fischer said the cargo consists of mostly science experiments that will investigate everything from nanotechnology to growth of lung tissue to a protein crystal experiment investigating Parkinson’s disease.
“Thanks to our incredibly talented and professional worldwide team that provides the resources, monitors systems, and orchestrates our activities onboard, we will be able to conduct more than 250 experiments over expedition’s 52 and 53 with the science this Dragon holds in its belly,” Fischer said. “The crew stands ready to rock the science like a boss standing aside our amazing ground team of scientists, engineers, and support personnel.”
Over the next several hours, teams on the ground remotely controlled the robotic arm to move Dragon just below the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module, near the front of the station. It was firmly attached to the ISS once the 16 bolts in the common berthing mechanism were driven. That occurred at 8:07 a.m. EDT (12:07 GMT).
This was the 12th time a Dragon spacecraft was berthed to the station and the 94th cargo ship to service the outpost. In total, 185 spacecraft (both crewed and uncrewed) have visited the ISS since 1998.
Later today, the crew will open the hatches between the spacecraft and station. Among the thousands of pounds of equipment and experiments is a “sweet treat” for the astronauts: ice cream.
Inside one of the Dragon capsule’s freezers are small cups of chocolate, vanilla, and birthday cake-flavored ice cream. These freezers will be reloaded with various research samples before the spacecraft departs the station, which expected for sometime in mid-September.
The CRS-12 Dragon’s journey started Monday when it launched atop the company’s 39th Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff occurred at 12:31 p.m. EDT (16:31 GMT) on August 14, 2017. About nine minutes later, the capsule was in orbit.
When Dragon leaves the outpost, it will be loaded with unneeded equipment as well as research experiments that need to be returned to Earth for study. Once it is unberthed, it will spend several hours phasing away from the ISS before performing a de-orbit burn.
After re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, Dragon will splash down in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Baja California. Recovery teams will pull it out of the water and place it onto a ship for transport to the Port of Los Angeles several days later.
Video courtesy of NASA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.